The Lioness of Idaho

History Corner

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Louise Shadduck left a huge footprint in Idaho history

Louise Shadduck was a reporter for the Coeur d'Alene Press who went on to become one of the greats in Idaho history after rising from the ashes of political defeat and being consigned to an attic. She did it one friend at a time.

Born in Coeur d'Alene in 1915, Louise lived a long life, putting her natural gifts to work as a journalist, political activist, public servant, author, speaker and lobbyist.

Who would have known that she hobnobbed with Herbert Hoover, Ike and Mamie, JFK and Jackie, LBJ, Nixon, Jerry and Betty Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, the senior Bush, and a host of other top people? She rarely talked about it; always focusing on the people on the street that she met every day.

She was loved, respected and admired and served her state with distinction, and was gifted with an extraordinary ability for remembering people's names and personal stories.

They called her the Lioness of Idaho.

Even with a loving spirit, there were some people she wasn't fond of - among them Franklin D. Roosevelt. When the wires announced that he was elected president for the fourth time, she wrote in her Press column, "Let me be the first to suggest that there not be a fifth."

Louise's family was not a fan of FDR's New Deal. They thought too much government support for people would take away the incentive to stand on one's own two feet. Throughout her life, she pushed the importance of individual responsibility.

Ronald Reagan said, "The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally - not a 20 percent traitor." Louise too took the "Broad Tent" (as they called it in the 1950s) approach to politics - it's OK to have different opinions, as long as everyone agrees on key issues.

"I ask you to get active in politics," she said in 1951. "In fact, if it will help, I will plead with you to become active in politics. Yes, I stuck my neck out in the roughest game in the world, and brother, in Idaho it is tough. ... You hear the expression 'dirty politics.' I'll tell you the truth. Sure, it's dirty.... But it will never get any cleaner until you and I as individuals get down on our hands and knees with a political mop bucket and brush and scrub it clean."

Louise Shadduck was well prepared early in life for a rough-and-tumble career in politics. She was born and raised in Coeur d'Alene into a family that would raise six boys and Louise on a farm they bought for $700 at the end of Shadduck Lane at the foot of Canfield Mountain.

They raised vegetables, blue-ribbon chickens, goats and a dairy herd, with everyone pulling their weight - including Louise, who held her own amidst a band of brothers.

Dalton Grade School was a two-mile walk each way from home. At Coeur d'Alene High School, she was a cheerleader, which she would be for political causes she believed in the rest of her life.

Biographer Mike Bullard described her as, "Never harsh, extreme, or judgmental, always respectful of religious differences, she attended churches wherever she lived ... Her beliefs would be a constant goad, personal guide and comfort for all the long years she lived."

She wrote for her high school paper and after graduating became a writer for the Spokesman-Review, and later the Coeur d'Alene Press. In 1944, The Press assigned her to cover the Republican National Convention in Chicago, where she felt like "Alice In Wonderland."

After the end of World War II, she organized the Kootenai County Young Republicans, which quickly grew to 100 members. "We were young. We were idealistic. We had an agenda," she said. "We didn't want any more wars."

She rejected GOP efforts to recruit her, preferring to stick to journalism. But when The Press sent her to Washington, D.C., as an intern in Idaho Sen. Henry Dworshak's office, she wore two hats - writing stories for the paper, and helping the senator. At age 31, her career was beginning to shift.

After attending a Young Republicans convention in Milwaukee, she was invited into presidential hopeful Robert Taft's inner circle. Her political roots were growing deeper.

Back in Boise, Louise accepted a second job offer from Gov. Charles A. Robbins, M.D., first as a publicity assistant, then primary administrative assistant to the governor - Idaho's first woman in that position.

She was the lioness guarding the governor's gate.

In 1948, she left writing for The Press, but continued distributing freelance stories, which The Press continued to put under her popular "This and That" column.

Next stop was Washington, D.C. with her friend Shirley Yenor, both taking jobs with Sen. Dworshak.

Louise also had talent as an artist, and to remind people of her state, she decorated the walls of the senator's office with images of skiing, fishing, boating, lumber, animals, potatoes and other things Idaho. A sprig of white pine sent by friends in Coeur d'Alene added an Idaho scent.

By age 36 and sporting a few strands of gray, Louise was known as an accomplished public speaker. Her recurring theme was "that individual initiatives in the seizing of responsibility is more effective than government programs."

In 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to run for president, Louise jumped onboard the "I Like Ike" campaign, even sharing a head table with the president.

She made many friends with her thoughtful habit of writing thank you notes.

In the summer of 1956 Louise decided to run for Congress, challenging incumbent Democrat Gracie Pfost.

Endowed with a gracious personality, she held "coffee bees" in homes and small towns in her district, working hard for the women's vote.

While campaigning, she always emphasized that the big difference between the Republicans and Democrats was about the proper size and role of the government - the same debate we hear today.

The national spotlight was on her at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1956 when she addressed the GOP National Convention.

During her run for Congress she also helped Ike in his re-election campaign

With all her charm, all the friends and all the attention and accolades, it still wasn't enough. Pfost won, Ike won, but she lost. Later she called her election bid "a fit of temporary madness."

Louise returned to work for Sen. Dworshak and got to know Idaho's new senator Frank Church. In 1979, she went to China with his trade delegation, promoting Idaho forestry.

Eventually, she had enough of Washington and returned to Idaho to work for Gov. Robert Smylie, who gave her an office in the attic of the Capitol Building and the job of resuscitating a struggling Commerce and Development Department.

With five employees and a paltry budget of $140,000, she started telling the world that Idaho was a great place to do business. Needing a bigger budget, she kept state legislators updated about her projects. The politicos liked her work and soon coughed up more money.

She continuously sent newspaper and magazine articles nationwide beating the Idaho drum, and invited business big shots from other states to come hunting, fishing and horseback riding - often going with them.

It all paid off. Businesses and national conventions started coming to Idaho. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts held big events at Farragut State Park and during her ten years in the job, the state's per-capita income jumped to its highest level in a century.

All her life, she was a ball of energy - making friends, writing articles and also five books, plowing the snow off her driveway, giving speeches, and always saving enough time to talk with and encourage young people just starting their careers.

The Lioness of Idaho had a clear vision of life and politics: "The government is us," she said. "The government is no better and no worse than we are." Louise lived to be 92. Her footprint remains.

Syd Albright is a writer/journalist/biographer living in Post Falls. Contact him at

Unfinished business

In Louise Shadduck's long and productive life, there were several things she didn't do: She never married, won election to public office, made a million dollars or earned a college degree - though she was given an honorary doctorate of laws. But what she did do more than made up for it.

Not everyone was welcomed to Idaho

When the white supremacist Aryan Nation skinheads came to North Idaho, Louise Shadduck helped pull the welcome mat out from under them. She pushed to amend the malicious harassment laws to include civil damages. That led to shutting the group down in Idaho and showing them the door.

Full story of a remarkable lady

Author Mike Bullard tells Louise Shadduck's whole story in his excellent book Lioness of Idaho: "The story of one woman who engineered Idaho's 10 best economic years and rose to national prominence - one friend at a time."

A brilliant mind and a warm heart...

"Louise Shadduck was an encyclopedia on the history and the political scene in the State of Idaho and was a unique asset to everyone involved in public service." - Frank Henderson, former state representative

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